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“The Real Threat to America”: the Mainstreaming of White Nationalist “Invasion” Rhetoric by Leading GOP and Right-Wing Voices

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Washington, DC – Conspiracy theories about demographic replacement and migrant invasions were once the prerogative of white nationalists on the fringes of the internet and the torch-wielding racists terrorizing the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, these deadly conspiracy theories are touted by the leading voices in the Republican Party and its biggest right-wing media allies. 

From the Governor of Texas, to America’s most-watched political commentator, to the leading GOP Senate candidate in today’s Ohio primary, all are publicly declaring war against a non-existent “invasion” at the southern border and, in the process, mainstreaming white nationalist conspiracies.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatens to declare an “invasion.” With the headline, “Abbott Threatens to Declare an ‘Invasion’ as Migrant Numbers Climb,” a New York Times report details how Texas Governor Greg Abbott is openly considering “whether to invoke actual war powers” against immigrants and refugees using the “invasion” framing: 

“Is it something we’re looking into? Yes.” Governor Abbott said in response to a question about officially declaring an “invasion” of the state during an April 21 press conference in San Antonio.  In a key excerpt, J. David Goodman and Edgar Sandoval write: 

“Now Mr. Abbott is weighing whether to invoke actual war powers to seize much broader state authority on the border. He could do so, advocates inside and outside his administration argue, by officially declaring an ‘invasion’ to comply with a clause in the U.S. Constitution that says states cannot engage in war except when ‘actually invaded.’

Top lawyers for Mr. Abbott and for the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, met this month to debate the move, which would put the state in a head-on collision with the federal government by allowing state police to arrest and deport migrants, according to two people familiar with the discussions.” 

Tucker Carlson mainstreaming white nationalism nightly: A new three-part series titled American Nationalist by Nicholas Confessore for the New York Times analyzed over 1,000 hours of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” from the last six years. Here are some key excerpts from the report: 

“…Today, Mr. Carlson’s influence reaches far beyond the channel he works for, or the audience that tunes in to his show. Mr. Trump is out of office and banned or suspended from the leading social media platforms. But Mr. Carlson remains, both high priest and champion of Mr. Trump’s most ardent followers. Each night, Mr. Carlson channels the passions and grievances that have replaced the Reagan-era conservatism he grew up on, from the tyranny of mask mandates to the grave danger posed by critical race theory in schools. He has aggressively defended the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — an attack that Mr. Carlson, borrowing the former president’s “deep state” canards, has portrayed as a false-flag operation masterminded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ambitious Republican lawmakers now echo his embrace of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, once relegated to the far-right fringe, that Western elites are importing immigrants to disempower the native-born…

… He encouraged shows to focus on the kind of grabby, inflammatory stories that dominated prime time and drove ratings. As the midterm elections approached and Mr. Trump’s unpopularity threatened to sink down-ballot Republicans, Fox began nonstop coverage of a migrant caravan wending its way through Central America to the U.S. border. Mr. Carlson and other prime-time hosts and guests called the caravan — mostly women and children — an ‘invasion’ dozens of times in the weeks before the election, according to tallies by Media Matters and CNN. They continued to do so even after a man walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue in late October and murdered 11 people, leaving behind a trail of social media posts railing against immigrants and Jews and applauding how people were now calling illegal immigrants ‘invaders.’…

… Far from being chastened, Mr. Carlson seemed to be testing his boundaries. In August 2019, days after a 21-year-old white man killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart to protest what he called the ‘Hispanic invasion of Texas,’ Mr. Carlson declared on the air that white supremacy was largely a ‘hoax.’ …  

… After Mr. Carlson promoted replacement theory on a show in April 2021, the Anti-Defamation League called for his firing. The Times found that it was far from the first time Mr. Carlson had done so. In more than 400 episodes, he has amplified the idea that Democratic politicians and others want to force demographic change through immigration.”  

Leading Ohio GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance makes “invasion” focus a core part of his campaign homestretch. In Ohio, former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate, J.D. Vance, has made downplaying the actual invasion of Ukraine and hyping the imaginary one at the U.S. southern border a key part of his campaign.  

  • On March 17, Vance went on Carlson’s show to advance the racist lie, saying: “Democrat politicians who have decided that they cannot win reelection in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the ones already here. That is what this is about. We have an invasion in this country because very powerful people get richer and more powerful because of it. It’s not bad policy, it’s evil and we need to call it that.”
  • In April, Vance went up with the first TV ad from his campaign in the primary, reportedly spending $1 million dollars on the spot, which advanced a version of the racist lie. In the ad, Vance falsely claims, “Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with more illegal drugs and more Democrat voters pouring into this country.” Or as a headline from Greg Sargent succinctly described the ad: “As vile as it gets: J.D. Vance goes full ‘great replacement theory’.”  
  • Vance has made lies about a migrant “invasion” a constant part of his campaign, tweeting, “Never before has American leadership actively promoted the invasion of the country,“ as early as December last year.

According to Zachary Mueller, Political Director at America’s Voice: 

The leading candidate in the most expensive Senate primary ever, the Governor of the largest Republican-controlled state in the nation, and the host with the largest nightly audience on television are each mainstreaming a white nationalist conspiracy theory.

The real threat to America is the violent, exclusionary, and anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become a central plank of the Republican midterm political strategy. Dismissing the talk of a migrant ‘invasion’ as hyperbole and political posturing is tempting, but these are not a bunch of kooks yelling racist conspiracy theories from the sideline. 

Men and women with real power and influence at the center of shaping the Republican Party are seriously contemplating declaring war against an imaginary foe. And while the ‘invasion’  is not real, the victims of this racist lie are very much real, and the horrific events at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Walmart in El Paso should be a sobering reminder of the real consequences of mainstreaming this hate. 

As The New York Times article indicated, Governor Abbott “is weighing whether to invoke actual war powers.” That is an astounding statement, but not surprising to those of us monitoring the GOP rhetoric. As it stands now, Governor Abbott’s concerns about possible federal prosecution of state law enforcement appear to be the only thing holding him back. In the coming months, Abbott is likely only going to face more pressure from Tucker Carlson and other voices to his right to turn from consideration to actually declaring imaginary war with real troops.

We should believe what Abbott, Carlson, and Vance, as well as Republican Party leadership, are telling us – they are well beyond reasonable immigration policy debates and are ready to fight using any and every possible tool in their ongoing assault against migrants looking to claim asylum. We should start treating their threat of violence as such.